By Teemu Virtanen
The Visma Ski Classics Season X got disrupted prematurely due to the COVID-19 outbreak in the world, but we had a chance to enjoy nine action-packed events that came with suspense, thrilling fights and a lot entertainment. Andreas Nygaard, Team Ragde Eiendom, and Britta Johansson Norgren, Lager 157 Ski Team, were able to beat their opponents in the Hertz Champion competitions and took home the titles once again. For Nygaard, this was his second consecutive overall victory and for Johansson Norgren her fifth.
Nygaard starts our interview session by looking back on the season.
”Before Christmas, we raced a prologue and two 30 km races on a short loop in high altitude. Not the reason why I became a long distance skier, but still a really cool way to start the season. Especially the Team Tempo. I was healthy and in good shape, but the results were just not as good as I hoped and planned for. A lot of strong guys, especially the young Swedes, surprised me in a positive way. After Christmas, my results just got better and better, and at Marcialonga, Toblach-Cortina and Jizerska I felt really strong. At Vasaloppet, I miscalculated my tactics a bit, ended up 6th, really disappointed. The same place as in 2014, and the worst since 2016. However, it was an amazing feeling to see Petter standing with the laurel wreath when I crossed the finish line. This was our team’s biggest goal for the season, and we made it!”
“This was a season when I struggled a bit with staying healthy,” Johansson Norgren recalls her hurdles in Season X. “So, I couldn’t complete all the workouts as I wanted. But I managed to be on the starting line in all the races, and in the end it became a really good season. The season had an unfortunate end, and my feeling is a little bit empty after the season.”
For Nygaard, Jizerska Padesatka was the highlight of the season since everything worked perfectly for him on the race day; he was in great shape, he had fast skis and strong teammates around him. For Johansson Norgren, the first individual mass-start race in Livigno was the greatest memory as both victories went to her team; she won the women’s race while Emil Persson was the king of the day in the men’s race.
For both of them, it was an amazing feeling to be able to keep the Yellow bib after last season, and they are both extremely proud of it.
“A lot of guys can win a race or two, but winning the Yellow bib shows that you have the qualities to be the best during a longer period of time,” Nygaard states firmly. “After La Venosta, I thought it would be really tough, but luckily I managed to stay healthy for the entire season and get in some good results at the end. The last part of the winter is usually my best one, so it was a shame we never got the chance to race Birken, Reistadløpet and Ylläs-Levi. It was not the way I wanted to win the bib, but sometimes unpredicted things can happen. COVID-19 is not to be taken lightly, and I think VSC acted in the right way, ending the season as soon as they saw where this was heading.”
“On the woman’s field, it is important to be high up in every race,” Johansson Norgren evaluates her winning qualities. “And if you miss a race, it’s hard to collect enough points. So, staying healthy throughout the season has to be the focus, if you want to take the Yellow bib.”
Nygaard credits his teammates and fast skis as the source for his greatness along with quality training sessions he has done with his team over the years.
“The journey from 2015 to 2020 has been amazing, and I would never have been the same without my team, especially Anders Aukland and Tord Asle Gjerdalen. They have been wonderful role models, both off and in training. Weighing 90 kg presents some challenges, especially in terms of VO2max and uphill skiing. The laws of Newton also apply to skiers, and for me to keep up with guys like Tord, Petter, Morten and Tore, I need to be at my very very best. If I am not, they will kill me flat out. In the past years, I have neglected sprint and strength training a bit, trying to be a stronger skier on uphills and more consistent in every race. I will never reach the same level as the strongest endurance athletes in the peloton, but my every day goal is to close the gap as well as I can.”
For Johansson Norgren, it is really important to be able improve herself and be stronger in the last three races of the season since they have always been quite challenging for her. Naturally, she has her eye on keeping the Yellow bib for the sixth year.
Nygaard and Johansson Norgren are happy with the progress that Visma Ski Classics has made in recent years, but since they are innovative athletes, they quickly come up with some new ideas.
“I think the Pro Tour improves every year, and I am super-excited about the future,” Nygaard shares his point of view. “Giving prize money for each sprint and climb in every race could be a good idea, turning up the heat even more, both for the viewers and the skiers. Also awarding the best team for the day and have them up on the prize ceremony platform is something I think we should do at every event.”
“I think the summer events are important for us as well,” Johansson Norgren continues her fellow Champion’s train of thought. “We need to be conspicuous all year round, and we need more exposure and engaging action to enhance and build up the brand. But we need to separate our summer and winter activities!”
Finally, these two great athletes are more than pleased to advice their fans on how to survive these challenging times and to keep themselves inspired.
“My advice to everyone is that they should enjoy some easy days off with their family, stay healthy and look forward to the next winter,” Nygaard sends his greetings to our readers. Johansson Norgren adds by saying that you need to “see the opportunities and the things you can do instead of all the things you can’t.”
These are, indeed, splendid pieces of advice and we will certainly oblige and do our best to overcome our struggles and get ready for the new exciting Visma Ski Classics season.